Q&A: Jamie Brenner
The New York author discusses the inspiration behind her latest novel, set in Provincetown
Cape Cod Life ONLINE exclusive
Even on a dreary day in the middle of May, Provincetown still radiates its distinct vibrant aura. That aura certainly captured the attention of New York author Jamie Brenner, who I met with on this particular day in 2017 at Commercial Street’s Anchor Inn Beach House—the inspiration for the setting of her third book, The Forever Summer (2017), released this spring. After over 15 years of working in book publishing—including what would turn out to be an invaluable stint as a literary agent—the 46-year-old Philadelphia native finally fulfilled her lifelong dream of being an author in 2013 with the release of The Gin Lovers, followed by The Wedding Sisters in 2016. In our conversation, Brenner traces her passion for reading and writing, and explains why she chose Provincetown as the epicenter for her latest page-turner.
Cape Cod Life: What inspired your interest in reading and writing growing up?
Jamie Brenner: I had a stay-at-home mom, so on Saturdays, my dad, to give her a break, would take me out for breakfast. We went to this coffee shop, and right next door was a small bookstore. (“Hi Molly,” she says to the inn’s resident chocolate lab, who interrupts our conversation for a brief visit. Molly is also the name of the dog in The Forever Summer, but more on that connection later.) He didn’t buy me a lot stuff, but he would say, “I will always buy you a book.” So every Saturday I got a new book, read it that week, and then the next week I got a new book. It just opened up my whole world. All I wanted to do was read, and then I realized, if I could write novels when I’m older, someone out there could be feeling this way about my stuff. I just always knew I wanted to be a writer.
CCL: Was there an author you were particularly inspired by?
JB: Norma Klein. She wrote about families in a way that other people weren’t in the 70s, when people were writing about families in a very Brady Bunch sort of way. Norma Klein was the first writer I read who wrote for teenagers about families in a messy way, who wrote about divorce, who wrote about longing for a different life. She was the first person who “discussed” these things with me, and it was the first style of writing that I really fell in love with. Her books had an emotional realism.
CCL: That type of storytelling is certainly reflected in The Forever Summer.
JB: I like a combination of setting the book in a really fun and beautiful place but talking about something real while we’re there. Let’s really go through something and then come out on the other side.
CCL: What ultimately lead you to take that full-fledged leap into writing?
JB: I always wanted to write, but I felt like writers were almost these magical people who just produce these perfect books. I moved to New York after college to work in book publishing—I figured I could at least work with writers if I can’t actually be one. Over years of working in book publishing in different capacities, I saw that writers are not these perfect, magical beings—they hand in bad first drafts, they’re late on their deadlines, there are editors and agents who help. I realized you don’t have to be perfect, it’s a process, and it made me feel OK to try it.
CCL: Just how valuable has your background as a literary agent been for you as a writer?
JB: It’s indispensible. Some people get their MFA—working as a literary agent was my MFA. You’re working closely with writers at the very beginning stages—what’s the idea, how do we sell this, and what’s not working. Once I started putting those pieces into place for other writers, I was like, “I want to do this myself.”
CCL: OK, so the dog here at the inn is named Molly… How much of the Beach Rose Inn (the fictional setting of The Forever Summer) is based on the Anchor Inn Beach House?
JB: I had the story of The Forever Summer in my mind, but I didn’t know where I was going to set it. I knew it had to be someplace special, kind of off the beaten track. One morning I was watching CBS Sunday Morning, and they did a segment on Provincetown, in which they interviewed author Michael Cunningham. He said something that really got my attention, he said Provincetown is the one place he knows of that actually prefers peculiarity—and I thought that’s it, that’s the place where my characters can go on this crazy emotional journey. My husband and I booked an Air B&B (in Provincetown), but the first night we were here, as we were walking on Commercial Street, we saw this awesome cottage. There was this dog on the front porch, and then we realized it’s not a house, it’s an inn. I knew this would be the house in the book. It was 10 at night, we walked in the lobby, and Chris (the co-owner) told us the place was full for a wedding but that they did have one room still available, so we stayed there. The Anchor Inn Beach House is the Beach Rose Inn—the way it feels, Molly the dog, and the porch looking across the street at Joe Coffee.
CCL: How does a setting like Provincetown serve to tell the story of The Forever Summer?
JB: The Forever Summer is about two young women who are grappling with a sudden change in their family. They come to Provincetown to meet their shared grandmother. Provincetown, I feel, is a place that is not judgmental, it’s a place where people find themselves. I knew it was a place where my characters could not only accept their unconventional family, but also embrace it. The feeling here, the people, the history and the natural environment all shaped the book.
CCL: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
JB: No matter what form your family takes, no matter how unexpected or unconventional or frustrating, at the end of the day it’s the most important thing we have. We just need to let go and embrace it. For anyone who’s had issues with their family and is tempted to say, “I don’t even want to deal with you,” I want them to think about the alternative, which is to say, “I’ll deal with you in whatever flawed form you offer yourself.”
CCL: Are you currently working on a new book?
JB: My next novel with Little, Brown is called The Husband Hour, and that’s coming out next spring (2018). It’s set in the beach town Longport, New Jersey, and is about a reclusive young widow tracked down by a documentarian obsessed with the story of her late husband. It’s her summer of reckoning with the truth of her marriage.
CCL: Now for some random, rapid-fire questions… What do you like to do in your spare time?
JB: I have two teenage daughters… I don’t even know what free time means. Luckily I’ve managed to fill my time doing what I love to do, and I think that when you do what you love to do that’s why you don’t have free time, because you never stop doing what it is you love.
CCL: What book are you currently reading?
JB: I’m reading Shattered about the Hillary Clinton campaign, which is really fascinating—it reads like a novel. I’m also reading The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley, which is the third in a series. I literally just stopped by the Provincetown Bookshop and bought A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, so that’s the next one I’m going to read.
CCL: Since we’ve been talking about The Forever Summer, what is your ideal summer day?
JB: Waking up after a good night’s sleep, being near the water with a good book, good coffee, and getting in a few hours of writing.
To find out where you can purchase The Forever Summer on the Cape & Islands, check out our feature on the book in the June 2017 issue of Cape Cod LIFE under Good Reads in LIFE. You can purchase the June issue here